English clubs continued their all-out assault on this season’s Parker Pen European Shield as Saracens and Gloucester joined Sale in the last eight following victories on French soil.
Both Bristol and London Irish were poised to follow suit later today, while Wales are also guaranteed two quarter-finalists in the shape of Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd.
French clubs, who once enjoyed overwhelming Shield dominance, currently have just one representative in the knockout stages 2000 winners Pau.
Saracens were given their toughest pool eight battle of the competition before edging past Bordeaux-Begles 25-24 yesterday thanks to tries by Tim Horan, Ben Johnston and Adryan Winnan as well as 10 points from the boot of Luke Smith.
Gloucester saw off La Rochelle 36-12 with Sale destroying Roma 62-17, helped by try doubles from Mel Deane, Apollo Perelini and Chris Jones.
But Ebbw Vale defied all the odds, crushing Agen 59-10 at Eugene Cross Park and winning by a clear eight-try margin required for them to reach the knockout stages.
Vale stormed into a 44-0 half-time lead against a disbelieving Agen side, whose line-up included French star Christophe Lamaison.
Wing Gareth Cull finished with 24 points, including two tries, leaving Vale coach Mike Ruddock to reflect on a remarkable performance which meant they topped pool one.
‘‘It wasn’t just the win, but the style of rugby we played,’’ he said. ‘‘We have been working hard for months to play like that.
‘‘If we play like that then we have got chances against any opposition. To put 59 points on top French opposition is a dream come true.’’
Pontypridd, awarded both points by tournament organisers following Overmach Parma’s pool three no-show in a rearranged game at Gloucester last Thursday, secured quarter-final status by brushing aside Beziers 41-8.
Ponty were home and dry by half-time, 31-3 up, before taking their foot off the pedal.
Full-back Brett Davey kicked 16 points, while Beziers had hooker Brice Miguel sent off.